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How important is a truss rod?

I saw Samson Schmidt play last night and he appeared to be using a Rodrigo Shopis without an adjustable truss rod. A buddy of mine told me that the original Selmers had an almuninum insert instead of a truss rod. Is that so? If so, how important is it to actually have a truss rod on a well-made guitar? Is it just something that a lot of us think we have to have but isn't actually critical?

Also, what is the advantage to building without a truss rod? Cost?



  • bjewellbjewell New
    Posts: 43
    Martin guitars never hd trussrods until the '80s. I paid extra for a D-18 Authentic because it doesn't have a trusrod and is built with hide glue along the lines of a '30s guitar.

    A well made guitar doesn't need a trussrod and they create huge hollow channel in the neck. Add plastic glue like 95% of builders use today and you have a recipe for mediocrity. That's my opnion and I'm stickin' to it!

  • marcieromarciero Southern MaineNew
    Posts: 120
    I did not know Selmers had the insert, if that is indeed true. That;s what they used on the old Martin flat tops. These are in fact truss rods, just not adjustable. Adjustable truss russ rods came much later, and made it possible to control the neck profile for different guage strings, changes in climate, player preference, unpredictability/variability, and/or settling of wood, and the long-term effect of string tension. The modern slim necks that many players like would not be possible without adjustable truss rods.
    Even with the longer scale length, gypsy guitars typically have much less tension than other steel string guitars due to the lighter strings.
    That's the main reason you can get away without one. I am sure that slim necks would still be a problem without.
    I have a guitar without one and the neck has been fine. I would bet that all the high end Selmer copies do not have them. Players and builders seem to be quite conservative in this regard. Maybe I'm conservative, since I have a guitar without one and like the idea of having one fat solid piece of walnut. I have a Dell Arte with a slightly slimmer maple neck that does have one, and I did have to adjust it the first year or so, and am glad that has one. I am not sure about, for example, builders of more "modern" interpretations of the gypsy guitar. This would be easy enough to check.

    Would be interested to hear what Bob Holo or any other builders that check in here have to say on that issue.

  • marcieromarciero Southern MaineNew
    Posts: 120
    bjewell wrote:
    Martin guitars never hd trussrods until the '80s. I paid extra for a D-18 Authentic because it doesn't have a trusrod and is built with hide glue along the lines of a '30s guitar.

    A well made guitar doesn't need a trussrod and they create huge hollow channel in the neck. Add plastic glue like 95% of builders use today and you have a recipe for mediocrity. That's my opnion and I'm stickin' to it!


    Just seeing this post. Right. Martin finally relented in the 80's. They were pretty much forced to because of all the problems and because players at that time had more alternatives whose necks would behave. That's interesting about your "D-18 Authentic", that it comes with no truss rod. I would bet that it does not have a slim neck. Still I would note that the majority of builders of high-end flat top and arch tops do use truss rods. Most people would view the adjustable truss rod as an advancement whose practical benefit far outweighed anything else. Like going from friction pegs to geared tuners.
  • IMO If one lives in a part of the world that has significant seasonal swings in relative humidity, there are some real advantages to guitars with truss rods with string tensions over 100 lbs

    Classic guitars don't use em as the string tensions are usually range around 80 85 lbs pull. Sometimes they will have a stronger piece of wood in a channel where the truss rod would go to give the neck more stability and stiffness.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • periclimenespericlimenes Santa Ana, CANew
    Posts: 140
    What's the string tension like on a selmac type guitar? What is the advantage of going with some type of metal or graphite insert instead of an adjustable rod? Weight?
  • Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
    Posts: 1,252
    The original Martins with the T-bars tend to stay in place but when Martin switched to the hollow-squared pipe later on it wasn't quite as successful and they do see their share of neck issues.

    Truss rods are OK as long as people understand what they are and what they do. The problem with this is that generations of guitar-marketers have misrepresented the purpose and use of truss rods to the buying public because the true function of a truss rod is not very sexy. It's for making very small adjustments to the relief of a neck provided that the neck is already a stable and well-designed structure which needs a slight relief adjustment (which mostly... isn't the case... frets & action are the common culprits) Tough to sell a subtle and seldom used feature like that... much easier to sell it as something that protects the owner's investment in the guitar by stabilizing the neck, and empowers the owner to customize his playing experience... so they 'pimp' the truss rod up to be something it isn't. As a result... you'll find a lot of guys out there who will swear up & down that truss rods are absolutely necessary for neck stability, great for adjusting action/playability... and that guitars without them are cheap knockoffs... Of course, truth be told, they should never be used for adjusting action, and truss rods are one of the least expensive ways to allow high-volume makers to use woods of low & variable quality and get OK (not good) neck stability. Of the 18 or so guitars I own ranging in ages from 1919 to present day... the only one I've had a neck problem with is the one with the truss rod. Strange but true... and it caused the problem in an otherwise good neck. (but only because it had been improperly adjusted by the shop owner... There should be a saying: "Truss rods don't kill guitars; people with truss rod wrenches kill guitars.)

    Neck stability is in the design and materials of the neck. So if you put a truss rod in a strong stable neck, it can perform its function... and sometimes you use a truss rod to add a little extra strength to an otherwise torsion-stable neck which by design is a little on the thin side... But, all too often, truss rods are used as a panacea to solve the myriad of problems that arise from poor neck design or poor neck materials. If the neck wood is green or has tension in it or is not strong enough to take the stress... then throwing a 'Hail-Mary' pass to the truss rod to turn a crap neck into a good neck is... well... wishful thinking. To make things worse, when you truss a crappy neck... because the strong inner portion of the truss rod is not bonded all along the length of the neck (it can't be or it couldn't adjust) it can put forces on a weak neck that encourage it to squirrel about (torsion) and hump up (neck-meets-body hump) in places.

    Some guys, like the wonderful flat-top luthier Jeff Traugott do 'belt & suspenders' by building great necks... then putting in both carbon rods and a truss rod. That's the "Rolls Royce" solution... For GJ guitars which are preferably lighter, (the Ferrari solution) truss rods are a tougher sell. I put double carbon rods in a Traugott-style configuration and sometimes do a full-depth rosewood spline between them. This is probably overkill but to put it in "Mastercard" terms... Price of two 18" milspec epoxy-potted pultruded rods... about $25. Price of a full length aged & quartersawn rosewood spline... about $15+ depending on species... extra shop-time to make the neck in this way: $100+ ...The knowledge that you're not going to have people calling you with neck problems? Priceless)

    So, you asked if any carbon or truss solution necessary in GJ guitars which are strung with such small strings? Well, two of the three guitars I made for myself have only the rosewood spline. One is two, the other is ?? about 5 years old. No problem so far. If I'm still alive in 2080 I'll probably reinforce the neck when I do the neck reset. I genuinely hope that happens. C'mon medical technology... solve the aging problem... please.... a free guitar to the doctor who does it...

    Truss rods are great when understood and used right both by the builder and owner. But they are probably the most widely misused, misrepresented & misunderstood part of an acoustic guitar.
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • klaatuklaatu Nova ScotiaProdigy Rodrigo Shopis D'Artagnan, 1950s Jacques Castelluccia
    Posts: 1,665
    Bob Holo wrote:
    Of the 18 or so guitars I own ranging in ages from 1919 to present day...
    18 guitars ... wow, Bob, you are the wind beneath my wings! Would you be so kind as to list the 18? I only have six (with one on the way) and just don't have room for more.

    As the proud owner of a Bob Holo creation, I can attest that the lack of a truss rod helps to make Bob's guitars just about the lightest gypsy guitars you will ever encounter.

    "It's a great feeling to be dealing with material which is better than yourself, that you know you can never live up to."
    -- Orson Welles
  • bjewellbjewell New
    Posts: 43
    I think for a realistic discussion the word trussrod is different than adjustable trussrod, which I believe we were talking about. I prefer the term neck reinforcement in regards to the metal bar in vintage Martin necks. Martin necks pre-64 were always stabl. You might have to reset them, but they rarely if ever bowed, even under the tension of heavy Black Diamond strings. The hollow tube was a disaster as well as Martin going to wood that was steam kilned as opposed to air dried. These days, Martin makes @ 70,000 guitars a year; in the old days it was more like 4,000 and going to a trussrod had a lot more to do with flabby wood than a need to compete with anyone.

    Yes, the neck on an 18 Authentic is huge, something I like. But up to 1964, Martin used the same principle in their neck construction -- seasoned high quality mahogany (let' not get back into the 19th Century Spanish Cedar, okay?) and a well tempered piece of T-shaped steel set tightly in a channel. The necks on these guitars are not particularly large.

    My repairman routinely fills the post-64 hollow tube affair with liquid graphite during neck resets which hardens into an incredibly stiff support. I had him do that on my '86 D-45 and the difference in volume, tone and sustain was simply amazing.

    To me, if you really want that old Selmer sound, you need to build the guitar in the same fashion as the original. This means hide glue, no trussrod and follow the other practices of that era. I've only owned four "Gypsy" guitars, so I don't pretend to be an expert on their creation, but I have owned literally hundreds of high-end instruments, ranging from '30s Martin dreads, '50s Lesters, a ton of Fenders from '51 on up, Gretsches, Guilds, you name it, I had four or five of them.., -L-

    And whenever a company tries to replicate the sound of the originals, they have to devolve the so-called upgrades over the years to get back to the roots of what a particular instrument was all about.

    I would imagine Selmer-style guitars are no different...
  • bjewellbjewell New
    Posts: 43
    Another thing about the D-18 Authentic. I replaced a terrific '03 D-18 Golden Era with this guitar. The guitars are identical in wood specs -- a red spruce top on high-quality mahogany sides and back, ebony board and bridge, Brazilian rosewood head overlay, etc.

    The difference is that the GE was made with plastic glue and has a trussrod. While both guitars are "loud," there is a substantial difference in tone and clarity between the two. Well known luthier Bryan Kimsey has attempted to bring the GE up to the Authentics level but says it cannot be done becasue of those two factors. An Authentic has the same beautiful tone of a '30s Martin dread. They are astounding instruments.

    How this would translate to a Selmer-style guitar would be interesting. I do know that I won't purchase another guitar held together with anything but hide glue.
  • StringswingerStringswinger Santa Cruz and San Francisco, CA✭✭✭✭ 1993 Dupont MD-20, Shelley Park Encore
    Posts: 463
    First off, I agree with the comments about hide glue. It has been my experience that guitars made with hide glue have better tone than those made with more modern glues.

    Regarding truss rods, I would point out that John D'Angelico, the Stradivarius of the guitar IMO, used non adjustable truss rods until Gibson's patent on their adjustable truss rod expired. John used the Gibson style adjustable truss rod from that point until his death and his protege, Jimmy D'Aquisto used it throughout his life as well.

    The endorsement of the D'A's answers the question to my satisfaction. The answer is that some form of neck reinforcement is necessary in a steel string guitar, an adjustable truss rod being the best solution.

    I understand the inherent conservatism of guitarists (I myself own 15 guitars, all of which were designed or made before 1960, so I fall into this group). After all, if it ain't broke, why fix it? It seems to me that an adjustable truss rod can help avoid an expensive repair is some cases. I'm glad Maurice DuPont and JP Favino put adjustable truss rods in my Gypsy guitars. I have not needed to use them, but i like knowing that they're there. And tone wise, they are at the top of the heap.


    "When the chord changes, you should change" Joe Pass
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